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Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a surface characterisation technique which analyses topology. To date, AFM studies of tissue ultrastructure have focussed on single collagen fibrils extracted from different tissues prior to analysis. Using sample preparation techniques used in electron microscopy studies, this work uses AFM to analyse the collagen ultrastructure of bulk samples from bovine deep digital flexor tendons (DDFTs). DDFT ultrastructure in regions of the tendon which experience different loading conditions are compared. Samples are analysed post-freezing and post-aldehyde fixation with either 10% formalin or 4% glutaraldehyde in order to investigate the affect of tissue preservation on tissue ultrastructure. The results demonstrate that both fibril diameter and repeat unit of the tendon vary between different regions in the dorsoventral plane, with regions subjected to both tensile and compressive forces exhibiting smaller fibril diameter and repeat unit compared to regions subjected to tensile forces alone. These differences are detectable regardless of the tissue preservation technique used. However these measured differences do vary with preservation techniques with aldehyde-fixed samples exhibiting smaller fibril diameters and larger repeat units compared to frozen samples. These results demonstrate that AFM is a highly suitable technique for the characterisation of different ultrastructures in bulk samples but that it is important to be consistent in the choice of preservation technique.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





531 - 535


Animals, Cattle, Collagen, Microscopy, Atomic Force, Specimen Handling, Tendons, Tissue Fixation